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Space exploration thread

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farawayred:
Mars is a difficult place to explore remotely. It takes years to prepare a mission and success is anything but guaranteed (just ask the Russians). The Russian Fobos-Grunt mission was extremely ambitious, very underfunded and underengineered, and (IMHO) had a marginal chance for success. But it's a pity, because it would have provided a piece of Mars back to Earth for analysis. NASA doesn't take the same leap-approach, they try turning the knob on the difficulty level incrementally. But this is very costly and requires new technologies at every level. How many remember the first Pathfinder rover, as big as a shoebox (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars_Pathfinder)? How many know that the two MER rovers, Spirit and Opportunity (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars_Exploration_Rover), were actually packed in the same shell (top right image in the Pathfinder link)? And they are big... But not as big as Curiosity (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars_Science_Laboratory). Just look at the comparison of the three rovers in the picture at the bottom of the page. Curiosity is so big that the airbags technology is useless thereby the Sky Crane came about. Would it work? We'll find out next August, I suppose.

But that's not why I wanted to start this thread. After speaking with random people after the MSL launch on November 26, the general perception is that the mission was launched and we'll call in some time in August next year for the landing... Well, no. There is a lot of work to be done to verify the health of the spacecraft, instruments to be turned on, issues to be worked out, etc. So, I start this thread with the intention to raise awareness to that aspect of space exploration - arguably the more boring but critical one. I will keep posting periodic updates if there is significant interest and I would be happy to answer questions if I can.

Let me start with a picture from the launch (below). Did you know that the actual spacecraft is about the size of the MSL logo on the rocket (second from top)?

MSL status (Dec. 8) - safe and healthy. The spacecraft rotates with 2.05 rpm, the sun is at 36.7 degrees, solar array output is 684W, shunting 316W. Radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG) output is 113W, battery SOC is 55% on each battery. Telecom is in the Cruise Nominal 2 configuration with a downlink rate of 25kbps and an uplink rate of 2kbps (no, there is no error, it's kilobits... Imagine that internet speed in your place...). No significant issues at work. The Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) was turned on and will provide data throughout the voyage.

farawayred:
The ACS (Attitude Control System) has been prepared for the execution of the first turn after launch scheduled for today, rover batteries are fully charged (just in case), and the command loss timer will be reset for 3 days. The RAD instrument will be turned off for the duration of the Turn #1.

No major issues at work. The thermal discrepancy data issue has been resolved, and the warm reset hiccup from Nov. 30 is still being investigated.

Outside flight issues, the major focus is on learning how to drill in simulated Mars environment, and investigating the limitations arising from the lifetime of the drill.

farawayred:
Spacecraft update: Turn #1 was successfully executed, the spacecraft is sound and healthy and there are no significant issues at work.

At JPL: A significant victory in the fight for successful drilling on Mars - a successful completion of 1.5 drill lives at maximum stress (the second part of that tests will take it to 3X lives). Considering that the drill was used for 3X lives in prior experiment at mild conditions, it's a miracle that it didn't fall apart... Maybe there is a grain of truth in the joke that JPL stands for "Just Plain Lucky" ::)

farawayred:
Is it a good idea to have a all-in-one space-related thread? I found a few threads on specific topics that come and go, but maybe we can concentrate the effort... Mods merge if you wish.

Congratulations on the successful Vega launch!
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-16956324

PROPER crazyemlyn72:
good thread. my 2 cents. we have regressed since the moon landings, all that knowledge and expertise has been lost. if we had to go to the moon to save our planet i doubt we would get there. If we started a moon program tomorrow it may take 5 to 10 years before we could do it. i bet when we landed in 69 we all thought it we be a common occurance in 2012. we got that prediction well wrong.

the chinese might be motivated to go out into space to get resources. they might not be as worried about safety as westerners are. therefore they might progress quicker.

i would like to see that telescope put out beyond the moon. its do-able.

and nasa seems to be giving up, putting their hope in entrepreneurs of getting men into orbit. tis shocking so it is.

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